45 years ago today, on September 20, 1973, the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between 55 year old Bobby Riggs and 29 year old Billie Jean King occurred at the Houston Astrodome in Texas. It was a classic male vs. female match-up which King ended up winning in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The match started at 630p local time and lasted a little over two hours. Each entered the arena ceremoniously with Riggs wearing a yellow Sugar Daddy candy jacket (he also gave King a giant Sugar Daddy lollipop before the match) and pulled in on a rickshaw pulled by scantily clad models. King entered the court as Cleopatra on a big feather bed lifted by four bare chested muscle men dressed as ancient slaves. She gave Riggs a squealing piglet as a gift to represent his male chauvinism.
The match had an audience of an estimated 50 million in the U.S. and 90 million worldwide. The attendance in the Houston Astrodome was 30,472 which is to this day the largest to ever watch a tennis match in the United States.
You have to wonder if a match like this could even happen in today’s PC-world. Serena Williams recent meltdown at the U.S. Open women’s finals and her accusations of a double standard between male and female tennis players would indicate that the answer is no. The last time a male played a female in tennis was in 1992 when Jimmy Connors played Martina Navratilova, which was more of a Pay-Per-View cash grab than a political statement. Connors won in straight sets 7-5, 6-2 in a match which Navratilova later said was less a “battle of sexes” and more a “battle of egos”.
With feminism, sexism, #MeToo and gender equality the face of current events these days, “Battle of the Sexes” tennis matches are about as out of vogue as if Mel Brooks tried to film “Blazing Saddles” today.
And one last sad note – just hours after the Battle of the Sexes match ended in Texas, folk rock singer Jim Croce and his entourage died in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Croce had just finished a concert at Northwestern State University and was flying to Austin, Texas for his next show. He was only 30 years old, but left behind an incredible legacy of music. Jim Croce – lost 45 years ago today.